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Independent group will set Federal Way mayor's salary and benefits

The Federal Way city council will trust the citizen-ran Independent Salary Commission to set the salary and benefits of the city's elected mayor position.

The decision was made Tuesday during a city council special meeting. The council itself could have instead set the salary for the position.

"Partially because of the fact that whomever is elected may be part of the current council, I prefer we avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest," mayor Linda Kochmar said.

During the meeting, the council also informally voted to create a chief administrative officer (CAO) position. However, the commission will establish benefits and a salary only for the elected mayor. The council's decision puts pressure on the Independent Salary Commission to set the mayoral salary, ideally by the end of this month.

"Turning it over to the Independent Salary Commission takes any politics out of it," deputy mayor Dini Duclos said.

Council member Jim Ferrell, who plans to run for mayor, recused himself from the discussion. Council member Jack Dovey was the lone dissenting opinion on who should set the mayoral salary. City council members have a much better idea of what the position entails, Dovey said. For this reason, Dovey preferred the city council set the salary and later turn the duties over to the Independent Salary Commission.

"We should be doing it here from the dais," Dovey said.

The mayoral salary must be set by April 1. Per King County, candidates will pay 1 percent of the salary, excluding benefits, in exchange for the chance to campaign to become the city's first elected mayor. The filing period for the position is June 7-11.

Commission timeline and background

The Independent Salary Commission will gather up to three times in January in attempt to meet the April deadline. Salary commission chair Gloria Elliott said Tuesday the commission wants the future mayor's salary to be fair and comparable to that earned in other cities. The group first met Jan. 20, but was unable to come to a consensus on the salary and benefits to accompany the elected mayor position.

Among the discussion Jan. 20 was whether an elected mayor should earn a higher or lower salary than the CAO. For example, Kent's elected mayor earns a base monthly salary of $8,516 while Kent's CAO earns $13,228 a month. Also of concern was whether the mayor should earn more or less than department heads.

Also on the agenda was a discussion for the salaries and benefits of the current mayor and city council. The commission voted to maintain Federal Way City Council members' monthly salary at $1,150 and monthly benefits at $475; the current mayor's monthly salary and benefits will remain at $1,500 and $475, respectively. These decisions take effect July 1.

The commission met again Jan. 22. Results of that meeting were unavailable at press time. If needed, another meeting is scheduled for Jan. 28. By then, the mayoral salary will be set. The salary commission could meet again sometime before May to identify benefits packages for the elected mayor, if needed.

Citizens disagreeing with the commission's decisions will have 30 days to speak publicly or file a referendum petition. If a petition is filed, the public decides by vote whether to support the commission's choice.

The Independent Salary Commission, made up of five citizen members, has set the city council and mayor's salaries since 2003. Pursuant to state law, Independent Salary Commissions may be established to set city council members' and the mayor's salaries rather than allowing the governing bodies to set their own salaries. The commission meets once every two years and decides whether adjustments to the salaries or benefits package are needed for the six council members and the mayor.

Members of the group apply for a position, are appointed to their seats by the city manager and are approved by the city council. Most of the current commissioners have backgrounds in finance or human resources. Unlike the city's other commissions, the group does not have to seek council approval of its final decisions before increasing or decreasing the public officials' salaries.

Federal Way's commission takes the job seriously. It examines approximately 14 Washington cities with a similar population as Federal Way's. The roles and responsibilities of council members and mayors in those cities is weighed against those assigned to Federal Way's officials. Fair market value is an essential factor in deciding if salaries ought to be adjusted.

Mirror editor Andy Hobbs contributed to this report.

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